Winter 2016 Trip Report
February 24 to March 11, 2016
David Bess, Trip Leader
Jason Marshall, Frederick Ward, Jeannie Bess and I left from the Columbia Gas Building in Charleston on Wednesday morning, February 24. We rented a van to drive to Washington Dulles Airport to save on airfare and to have greater flexibility with flight selection. We were delayed leaving Dulles due to bad weather, and missed our connecting flight in Frankfurt, Germany. Another flight to Moscow was available; so all was well. We had no idea at this time that the trip would develop into two, distinct mission experiences.
We were transported to Ryazan from the airport by team translator Olga Danilova and Victor Ternoviskiy of Central Church. Victor and his wife, Natasha, hosted the entire team in their home. After having a cup of tea and visiting for a few moments, we enjoyed a much-needed rest.
The next morning I met with the Economic Development Team. We reviewed an update to the loan guidelines and agreed on the contents. Several loan proposals were presented, but since no one has yet been selected by the Ryazan Baptist Union to lead the program on their end, no loans were approved. I’m willing to fill this position with the continuing advice of Keith Miller, who previously led the effort. My hope is that the Ryazan Baptist leaders will have a leader selected soon so that more Christian businessmen in the churches can be given assistance.
In the afternoon, I had a discussion with Pavel and Tamara about the transfer of funds from the WVBC to the Ryazan Baptist Union. While they are not happy about the new 5% charge by International Ministries, their greatest concern is with the great difficulty of withdrawing the funds from a Russian bank. As I understand their situation, Russian banks work much differently with church and organizational funds than American banks. Just because the money is in the account of the Ryazan Baptist Union doesn’t mean they can withdraw it. The Russian bank functions as more of a reimbursement account, with money being distributed only if the bank approves of its use. They would prefer money be transferred by the use of a debit card so that the restrictive paperwork of the bank could be avoided. We discussed the idea of transferring funds from the WVBC or International Ministries by loading a debit card in the name of the Ryazan Baptist Union. Then they could distribute the money to wherever it has been designated. Private accountability could be provided that the money has, in fact, been used for its intended purpose. A 5% fee could still be deducted to meet the expenses of International Ministries. Something needs to be done to make the transfer of WVBC mission dollars smoother for access by the Ryazan Baptist Union. I told them I would work with WV leaders to seek a better process.
Saturday morning the team drove to Kasimov to see the progress that has been made with the new church building. We met with Pastor Alexi and his wife, Natasha. We were fed lunch and enjoyed a time of warm fellowship. Churches from across the Ryazan Baptist Union came together the previous summer to build the structure, which is not yet complete. It was a wonderful display of churches working together as an association to advance the kingdom. The church is still small, but growing. After getting a tour of the inside and outside of the building, we drove back towards Ryazan. “Russian reality,” as Pavel calls it, had a severe effect on Olga’s van, with a deep pothole causing a new tire to blowout. After changing the tire, we continued on the trip back to Ryazan. The doughnut spare however, soon overheated and went flat as well. As we were sitting on the side of the road in a remote area with darkness falling, we sang hymns and praised God for his goodness and faithfulness. Soon Pavel and Pastor Alexi arrived with a replacement tire so we could get all the way back to Ryazan.
On Sunday morning, I preached at Hope Church, while Jason and Fred spoke at Central Church. That afternoon we met with a group of Ukraine refugees at Central Church. We heard of their plight as a result of the civil war in Ukraine. One family planned to return with a team of Ryazan Baptists who were going to the area the next weekend to provide relief and supplies to the many people who are hurting. We shared prayer requests, and had a moving time of group prayer together. Later Sunday afternoon, the team went to the new site for Hope Church. The property has been purchased already by Hope Church, with construction to begin soon. From that site we went to another location where there are plans to build a conference center and camp for all of the Ryazan Baptist Union. Pavel would like for the entire RBU to work together on the project. It could be compared to a combination of West Virginia’s Parchment Valley and Camp Cowen. Early on Sunday evening, we led a Bible study at the halfway house of Central Church. The men of the team led the men in “The Resolution” principles, while Jeannie met with the women and shared with them about Queen Esther. Her program included sample beauty treatments and gifts of tiaras, which all the women thoroughly enjoyed. Jason and one particular young man developed a strong rapport together. We learned that later in the evening the same young man, Roma, made a profession of faith with one of the Russian pastors. We feel the team had a part to play in his decision.
Monday morning, the team went to visit with Pastor Vloyda Kochev at Word of Christ church. His wife was feeling poorly and was unable to join us. He shared about his church’s growing ministry and showed us samples of puppets. He was very grateful for the considerable financial gift sent by a partner WVBC church. Due to the Russian bank restrictions however, it will be some time before he is able to benefit from it and actually purchase a used van as was intended. From Word of Christ we left for lunch at Central, then went to the gypsy camp. We first met with a large group of gypsy children. I explained the Gospel to them through using the wordless book, then the team gave them gifts of candy. From there we went to a second location in the camp, with older children, youth and adults. We stayed there some time, listening to their testimonies and sharing our own. The most heartbreaking and heartwarming part of the trip was found among the same group of people. Pastor Andrey Balashov, from Resurrection Church, is the coordinator of an outreach to the gypsies. Some of them attend his church, since they are not far from the city of Ryazan.
Monday evening, we returned to Hope Church to share the men’s and women’s Bible study with the interested adults there. The women were thrilled again, and the men had many questions about how to be better husbands. We followed the leading of the Spirit and responded to the questions, discussing the Biblical concepts involved with being a godly husband and servant leader.
Tuesday morning, we met Pam and Alyssa Miller at Hope Church, who were in the area visiting Katya. Lena Bulgova also dropped by the church, so both old and new friendships were cultivated. We left for Korablino to see the auto garage of Dima Mikava and the new church structure. After seeing the auto garage, the team drove to the site of the new Korablino building. The congregation is already meeting in it. The entire team looked around the lower level, then everyone went up the stairs to the second level. The second level is unfinished, but 98% of the floor was solid and finished. While Dima was explaining his plans for the second story, Jason moved back from the group to take a picture and stepped on the one portion of the floor that had not yet been completed. He fell through to the ground level, a drop of nearly ten feet.
As the team, Pastor Pavel, and the church at Korablino learned the extent of Jason’s injury, this trip took an entirely different direction. We would witness Christian love and God’s power manifested in a way that had never been experienced in Ryazan. Pastor Pavel and Pastor Dima carried Jason to the van outside the church, with Olga trying to support his bad leg. Jason was transported to the nearby Korablino hospital, where x-rays revealed his right hip was badly broken. Adding to his pain was the frustration of being treated by doctors and staff who spoke little or no English. He could not answer their questions and they could not answer his. Olga worked with him at the hospital as much as possible, but she also had to translate for the rest of the team. One of the Korablino church women, who is also a pharmacist, spoke fair English. She stayed with Jason most of the time. Dima, who knows a little English, spent the first night in the hospital with him. Marayana, the pharmacist, spent the second. Jason began witnessing to the staff with what little Russian he knew, despite his pain and strange surroundings. The care at the Korablino hospital was good, but the facility was primitive.
While the Korablino church was rallying around Jason, I was getting in touch with the trip insurance company. I cannot say enough good things about Gallagher Travel insurance. For the $25 or so I paid for Jason’s coverage, the service was spectacular. God truly provided for Jason’s needs through the trip insurance. On Wednesday evening, the insurance company made arrangements for Jason to be transported by ambulance to a hospital in Moscow that was well equipped to do the surgery. I rode with Jason in the ambulance, while Olga took the rest of the team to the lodging that was awaiting them. Jason arrived in Moscow after midnight, and by 3:00 a.m. he was settled in his room. I managed to get a taxi to the nearby Presidential Hotel where the insurance company had a room awaiting. He had surgery on Thursday, and it went very well. Olga was still working with the other half of the team, translating for them and getting them ready for their early morning flight on Friday back to the U.S. The medical staff at the Moscow hospital spoke a little more English, but communication was still a challenge. After getting Jeannie and Fred to the airport on Friday morning, Olga met me at the hotel, where the insurance company had also provided a room for her. She accompanied me to see Jason, and we began helping him understand more clearly the treatment and therapy that was being given.
After physical therapy and some time to heal, the next Friday, March 11, Jason was taken to the airport by a special team provided by the travel insurance company. The insurance company paid for his transport and for three, first-class tickets from Moscow to Washington, D.C. (Jason, a doctor to monitor him on the long flight, and me) and ground transportation from Dulles airport to his home in Williamson, WV.
The ministry on the first part of this mission trip occurred in the Ryazan oblast. The ministry in the second part occurred with the Moscow medical staff. Irina, two doors down from Jason, was a former medical translator for a Russian doctor, translating from Russian to English. She said she would be glad to help Jason in any way he needed it, and we made use of her. We discussed her spiritual condition, and she claimed she was an atheist. Upon talking further, we learned her real problem is with the Russian Orthodox Church, not Jesus Christ. We explained to her what it means to be a Christian, and she was very open. Olga gave a Russian New Testament to her as a present for Women’s Day. She was very grateful.
Natasha was a nurse who did not speak a word of English, but lighted up the drab room with her warm smile. She joined Olga, Jason and me for a church service on Sunday morning. We read Scripture, sang and prayed together, and Olga translated for her. She also received a Russian New Testament as a gift.
“George” was a young man studying to be a paramedic. Jason also developed a bond with him. When we were showing him pictures of the mission trip we had in Ryazan, he was extremely curious about the wordless book and what exactly it meant. So, standing in the hallway of the Russian hospital, I explained the Gospel to him, with Olga’s help, through the wordless book. He said he was not yet ready to follow Jesus but wanted to learn more. He was still intrigued by the wordless book, said he could remember what each page meant, so I gave it to him as a gift. He was thrilled.
Dasha is the young female doctor who accompanied us on the flight back to the States. She was curious about what it meant to be Baptist, and how it was different than being Russian Orthodox. So Jason and I explained it to her. Another ministry seed was planted and a godly relationship was established.
So while mission trips are always life changing, this one was especially so for Jason and me. For Jason, God showed him, and everyone around him, just how passionate he is about Christ and about Russia missions. One of his goals is to return to Korablino and to speak in the church where he fell. He is also learning just how much he can do with God’s help, and how he can experience God’s immeasurable grace in the midst of severe hardship. For me, I’ve seen an entirely different side of the Russian people. I’ve seen my brothers and sisters ministering not just to the people in their Russian communities who are in great need, but to a WV team member greatly in need. Their compassion and generosity is amazing. I’ve also gotten to know the Russian people through the medical community, and see just how skilled and caring they are. Just like the Baptists in Ryazan, the medical community in Russia knows how to accomplish great things with just a few financial resources.
I’ve been a part of six mission trips to Russia now, and I’ve experienced God more on this one than on any of the others. I’m ready to return for another trip as soon as my pastoral schedule permits. What have I learned as a first-time trip leader? Never, ever, go on a mission trip without trip insurance. I’m so grateful to God for the help provided by Gallagher Insurance. Also, expect the unexpected. I had taken extra cash, some extra clothing, and extra medications in case something happened and I was delayed. I needed them all on this trip. Third, have as good a grasp as possible of the language of the region in which you’re ministering. The translator may not always be there as a crutch. Though I’ve gotten pretty good at “Russian charades,” there is no substitute for having some knowledge of speaking and reading the language. I can, and will, do better with my Russian practice.
Finally, this trip has deepened for me my trust and confidence in my Russian brothers and sisters in Christ in Ryazan. The partnership hasn’t been weakened in any way, but strengthened. So despite Jason’s accident, I believe this trip in God’s eyes has been a definite success.